Newspaper election coverage, dissected

Ever wonder how much ink is spent covering election stories during campaign time? Or, which leaders — and issues — are really the darlings of the media? Well, the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada has taken the guesswork out of the game.

Each week, the Institute releases an unflinching analysis of the coverage of Canada’s top eight papers. How many times was Harper mentioned per article? Ingatieff? What about total mention of the word “jets”? “Coalition”? It’s all there.

As it turns out, Iggy and the Liberals are getting more positive coverage than Harper and the big Cs. However, the Liberals are also getting significantly less coverage, says Stuart Soroka, the McGill University political scientist who spearheads the project, dubbed the Federal Election Newspaper Analysis.

“What you really want,” he says, “Is more coverage and great coverage — and the Liberals are only achieving one of those.” Indeed, only 26 per cent of articles written April 4 – 10 mentioned the Liberal Party first, while 62 per cent mentioned the Conservatives first — suggesting the election continues to be framed in Conservative terms. The NDP scored nine per cent of first mentions; the Bloc, six.

So how does this compare to past elections? Well, as far as issue coverage goes, every election is different — although Soroka does say the economy is more of a talking point now than in the past two elections.

As for word choice: Soroka says the tone surrounding the Conservative coverage is comparative to the tone journalists used when talking about Paul Martin’s Liberals. That is, it’s roughly the same. Ouch.

Ignatieff’s Liberals, on the other hand, are enjoying the same positive tone the Conservatives once did. If you’re wondering what Soroka means by tone, think of the juxtaposing of words: bold and savvy, for example, are good; harsh and condescending, not so much.

And, if you’re now wondering what, if anything, this all means: it’s hard to say. The wonky coverage-tone gap makes it very hard to know what to expect in terms of vote outcome, says Soroka. And, of course, it could all change after tonight, as election coverage shifts over the coming weeks depending on who shines — and who bombs.

In the meantime, here are some other interesting stats:

449: number of times the word “coalition” was mentioned March 28- April 3
172: number of times “coalition” was mentioned April 4-10
67: number of times the word “jet” was mentioned March 28 – April 3
44: number of times “jet” was mentioned April 4-10
154: number of times the word “deficit” was mentioned March 28- April 3
165: number of times “deficit” was mentioned April 4-10
If you’re interested in the Institute’s research on this year’s election, as well as past elections, visit their site for the full list of reports.